Success Because of Failure?

It’s funny that the article that struck me the most for this week’s reading also happened to remind me of one of my favorite movies of all time. In Meet the Robinsons, a young boy is plucked from his present and flung far into the future to help save the space time continuum, and all because a boy left the garage door open. And it is while he is there that he meets the strangest group of people, who become the titular characters. These people help him in the most fundamental way possible, by telling him that “From failing you learn! From success… not so much.” Indeed the entire theme of the show is keep moving forward, reechoed by a quote by Disney himself. “Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” (Meet the Robinsons, 2007).

This encapsulates much of what Paul Tough was discussing in his article “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” In it, he takes a particular vendetta against standardized testing, which I also feel very strongly about (I think it is an abysmal way of determining or maintaining “intelligence”). There are so many qualities that a simple IQ test can never measure. They discuss the idea of character, but it goes far beyond just that. A sheet with questions to be studied quickly (often frantically) are quickly forgotten because there is no integration. It was not until a special adjunct professor in my undergrad program showed me just how all these seemingly random events in history were not isolated pigeon holes, but were all intrinsically connected to each other—often on multiple levels. Nothing exists in a vacuum, but it seems we are bent on teaching “biology” then “history” and “math,” “English,” “art,” “technology” all as separate subjects and in a single format. It has already been proven time and again that the more neural pathways the brain can forge, the more lasting the information will be. Simply, the more we allow ourselves to be integrated in a huge variety of topics, learning styles, and approaches, the more we learn and grow intellectually, and as individuals. This idea bridges a little into new culture of learning and reminds me of how I benefited from an unintentionally collective learning model.

I had a very hard time with math. The older I got, the more it felt like a foreign language. Now don’t get me wrong. I could scrimp by, often getting full As in my final grades through Pre-Calculus. But I wasn’t understanding it, not really. I would do my homework the second class was out (I skipped lunch for this) while it was still fresh in my mind. And then I would keep it just long enough to pass the test. I look at some of the questions I did back then and just stare at them, baffled. Not a lot of good my lecture and test formula did me. What did help when I was struggling with a concept was the brief group study time we had each class period after the lecture portion was over. We would form groups of our favorite people, and we would begin to talk and break down the assignment. And what I found cool, even then, was that somehow, a fellow student had internalized it differently than the single way the teacher had taught, but how they were explaining it made sense whereas before I had been completely lost. I feel this teacher did this intentionally now, and I realize the wisdom in it. Because in a collective, there is no single way to learn, and something will either strike a chord where it needs to, or even better, have that knowledge/community/idea build on itself.

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